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Chilling precedent? InfoWars block exposes Big Tech as no friend of free speech

The US Constitution explicitly forbids government censorship. So Silicon Valley big-tech companies made themselves the gatekeepers of 'goodthink,' de-platforming anyone who runs afoul of their arbitrary ‘community standards.’

Alex Jones, the host of InfoWars, has often been derided by establishment media as a conspiracy theorist. Yet on Monday, Apple, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook proved right the motto of his show – “There’s a war on for your mind!” – by blocking or deleting InfoWars accounts from their platforms, saying he allegedly engaged in “hate speech” and violated their “community standards.”

Simply put, these corporations appointed themselves arbiters of acceptable political thought, and censored Jones for failing to comply with arbitrary political standards set in Silicon Valley boardrooms, not at the ballot box.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution says that Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” There is no “hate speech” exemption, either. In fact, hate speech is not even a legal category in the US. However, a chorus of voices all too glad Jones was purged immediately chimed up to argue that Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Spotify are private companies and this does not apply to them.

There is a wrinkle in that argument, though: civil rights outfits such as the ACLU have argued that social media amount to a “designated public forum” in cases where government officials tried to avail themselves of blocking, muting and other functions put forth by Big Tech as a way to police “toxicity” on their platforms.

“When the government designates social media a public forum, the First Amendment prohibits it from limiting the discourse based on viewpoint,” the ACLU said in a brief submitted last year in a case before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. “When a government actor bans critics from speaking in a forum, it silences and chills dissent, warps the public conversation, and skews public perception,” the ACLU brief went on.

In a separate but obviously related case, a federal judge used the “designated public forum” definition to demand that President Donald Trump allow critics access to his personal Twitter account – not the official @POTUS one – because he is a public official.

However, if social media platforms are a “designated public forum” that government is not allowed to exclude people from on First Amendment grounds, how is it OK for corporations that operate these platforms to do so? Or is chilling dissent, warping conversation and skewing perception only bad when a government actor does it, thereby creating a legal system in which the what is irrelevant, and the only 

thing that matters is who/whom?

There is something deeply cynical about people who until yesterday denounced discrimination and evil corporatism – and will do so again tomorrow – suddenly defending private property and freedom to discriminate against political viewpoints. That’s because this isn’t about principles, but about power.

Liberals were once all for free speech, starting a movement by that name at Berkeley in the 1960s. Now that the media and academia overwhelmingly march in lockstep with the Democratic Party, however, they’re all about “no-platforming” opposing views and calling them “hate speech,”all in an effort to limit the range of permissible thought and expression in America.

 

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